Top Letters And Comments, August 13, 2021


It’s Good To Be Full Of Hot Air

Wow, what a fail for the World’s Premier Independent Aviation New Source. It’s completely disheartening that your editors would green light an article that is so biased and ill-informed.

The author has no respect for the oldest form of aviation and those who practice it, in fact the tone of the article suggests contempt. At a time when all General Aviation enthusiasts should be pulling together to support each other this article does the opposite and I have to admit that I am quite disappointed that the editors at AVweb chose to publish it online.

Referring to our aircraft as “big blobs” and “hot air bags” is uncalled for and demonstrates the authors contempt for hot air ballooning. Not only does the other present a highly biased personal view of the sport, he also doesn’t do much in the way of fact checking.

The history of hot air ballooning he presents is completely inaccurate. I can also assure you that if you look up the attendance gate figures of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and compare it to that of EAA Oshkosh, you’ll find that AIBF outdraws EAA by many thousands.

As a publication that espouses itself as the “World’s Premier Independent Aviation News Source” I would think that you would view such tripe as unworthy of your publication. I am truly disappointed in your choice to give this “article” the audience it doesn’t deserve.

John Trione

I am writing in reference to this article/opinion piece about hot air balloons: 

It is embarrassing for an aviation website to publish something so full of inaccuracies and clear hatred for the very first and longest existing form of flight. Your author clearly has never bothered to educate himself on balloons, on the history of these aircraft or even on accurate history of the first ever pilot – the very person whose name gives us the word pilot!

Let me clear a few things up here. Let’s begin with Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, who your author claims a Parisian mob executed Rozier. This is not true. Rozier became the first fatality from an air accident and died attempting to cross the English Channel in a balloon that combined gas and hot air called a Rozier – the same type of balloon used to successfully circumnavigate the globe by Steve Fossett in 2001. That’s right, a balloon designed in the 1780’s was used over 200 years later to successfully take Fossett around the world.

But let’s move on from Rozier. Your author also states that balloons cannot be steered yet he is mere miles from a week-long event involving competition that heavily relies on steering balloons to targets. We balloonists may not have the same controls as the fixed wing pilots but that does not mean we don’t have skills to put a balloon where we need it to be. Using the minute and large changes in speed and direction by ascending or descending is a skill that we learn and refine with every single flight we make. Perhaps if your author had taken the time to go to the event, to talk with some balloonists, or even to show up at a target sight and watch these balloons come into the field he would have realized there is much more skill involved than “applying heat to go up.” We could tell you more about the small layers of wind than most fixed wing pilots out there. Your author could learn more about wind by watching us put up a pibal or seeing the reading the theodolite takes from that pibal. The weather sheets that are put out for these competition events are far more than just the METARs and TAFs from the area reporting stations.

It seems to me that your author had a bad experience with a balloonists (and shame on that pilot for not being more responsive to the damage he or she caused – don’t worry, the balloon community will figure out who it was and get on them for that) – and then took that one admittedly poor experience and allowed it to color how he sees our segment of aviation. It happens, first impressions matter a great deal. However, if you are going to be writing for an aviation news source it is not a good idea to let your first (not good) balloon encounter determine everything you know about the sport and not do your homework on what your article is about. It is the authors responsibility – and your responsibility as the editor – to make sure the piece is fair and researched. This clearly was not either.

I am calling on AVweb to do better. This week in Scott’s Bluff, NE is the Balloon Federation of America National Championships. In a few short days we will also have Junior World Championships featuring 2 pilots from the USA. I urge you to get someone out to Scott’s Bluff to really learn about ballooning and write a fair and balanced piece.

Can’t make it this week? No problem, we’ve got events all over the country for the next few months. I am directly connected to the BFA Board and run all the BFA social media pages. I would be thrilled to connect you to an event to get your reporters/editors the access they need to really learn and write about ballooning. Please reach out to me and we can make this happen. It would also be cool if you had someone write a small history piece of how aviation got its start and how the word pilot came to be. Most people just think of the Orville brothers… but we were in the sky first!

Thank you,
Dawn Chase

Hello. I love reading your publication and enjoy much of your content. I’m not sure why Paul Berge decided to throw a jab at the ballooning community with his snarky article that did nothing to help the LTA industry that is struggling to acquire new pilots, a struggle that I’m sure we all can relate with. His facts were incorrect and his story about the history of ballooning was obviously the first Google story he found because it was incorrect. I must apologize for being one of the “annoyingly enthusiastic” balloonists but I am also a fixed wing pilot, and feel that there is no room for this kind of derogatory horseshit in the aviation community as a whole. I know I speak for many of the LTA community when I say that I expect an apology. Mr. Berge should keep his Snark to himself and do better research next time.

Derek Mortensen

Paul Berge replies: When I wrote, “It’s Good to Be Full of Hot Air,” I meant it, and given the title, readers should’ve realized I thought Hot Air Ballooning was “good” and that much of what I write is, indeed, gaseous nonsense. My trademark. While responses posted on Facebook expressed an amused appreciation for my hot air observations, all made from my cowardly post on the ground or from inside an airplane, several readers expressed umbrage at my take on their sport. So, to paraphrase Edward R. Murrow, “if what I wrote was irresponsible, I alone am responsible for writing it.”

I wrote: “While beautiful to observe, hot air ballooning isn’t for me, partially because I’m scared of heights.” Dissecting that sentence, it should be clear that I think hot air balloons (HAB) are “beautiful” just not for me as pilot or passenger, because “I’m scared of heights.” My phobia, my choice.

A reader took issue with me stating, “Steering a bag of heat isn’t really a thing.” A bit cheeky, I’ll admit, but I continued, “Dirigibles you can steer, but balloons lack flight controls in the conventional sense.” They do. The reader defended the skill and planning it takes to launch a non-dirigible balloon and catch favorable winds. I agree and had stated as much.

I was taken to the footnote woodshed when a reader accused me of killing off the esteemed Dr. Rozier, who, in 1783, had made the first successful HAB flight. I was accused of guillotining the good doctor in 1793. I did no such thing. It was King Louis XVI whom I editorially decapitated in 1793. Here’s the partial line: “Apparently unimpressed … Louis XVI snubbed Rozier’s triumph (in 1783), so 10 years later a Parisian mob cut off his head.” The pronoun, “his,” refers to the subject, “Louis” and his royal noggin, not Rozier’s.

I apologize for misleading with an errant antecedent. I will admit to unsubstantiated hyperbole when I wrote that Rozier “being a doctor, immediately put a deposit down for a V-tailed Bonanza.” Iowa House Of Parody (IHOP) fact checkers indicate Beechcraft received no such deposits in the 18th Century. I retract that assertion…except to readers who caught the joke.

In conclusion, the article was meant to be amusing with faint traces of information, such as how—in my experience—ATC doesn’t see HABs on radar. HABs are beautiful and take skills outside my kit to fly, but I stand by my assertion that they make me giggle as their cartoon shapes float across the Iowa countryside. I also hold fast to my lack of desire to stand “flatfooted inside a wicker basket, alongside some Wizard of Oz, blasting flame into a circus tent…”

When Video Tells A Macabre Story

Thank you for AVweb’s serious approach to publishing these videos. Responding to your statement that “most [publishers] rush to be first because they know, as we do, that being first snags the search engine and drives the most views that are the digital equivalent of crack cocaine,” my advice would be to continue not letting being first with click bait drive AVweb’s motivation. Whether it is video or not, my experience is that AVweb has few scoops, but scoops are not what matters. What matters is serious factual coverage that shares AVweb’s discovery of the truth which then motivates readers to decide what to do with the truth. So when I see a story first from some other source, I look for AVweb’s coverage, not to determine if AVweb scooped it but to begin serious processing of the story. That is a reputation AVweb has earned and it is AVweb’s to preserve.

John Kliewer

Modern media, and in the case, AvWeb should be having an internal debate. That debate shows that AvWeb has a sense of accountability to the viewer, the family/friends involved in the accident, and the value these videos may or may not add to aviation safety. That debate is re-assuring to me regarding the overall integrity of the staff of Avweb. Nice to see this blog discussing the internal wrestling match between the reality of modern media with a dialogue that includes being sensitive to everyone involved feelings and emotions. That debate proves or validates not every video should be published in the name of aviation safety. Some should be. However, some should not. Making that determination takes an internal company debate which includes one’s own personal feelings and emotions. Making that determination takes a lot of soul searching and exchange of feelings between oneself as well as staff members…who also have to sift their own personal positions through the same filters. I can imagine, those discussions are not always easy nor cut and dried, or black and white.

This video of “Snort’s” final moments is haunting. For me, I have never heard before a combination of helplessness, frustration, and anger. The hearing combined with the video is what really rattles my cage. I was attached to VT-23 NAS Kingsville in the 80’s maintaining T2C Buckeyes. I was also back seat qualified and regularly flew to the ship experiencing many traps and cat shots. I can relate to some degree the difficulty of landing an airplane on a pitching deck in less than ideal weather conditions. On several occasions, Captain Snodgrass demonstrated a fleet squadron Tomcat to help motivate and keep the testosterone high of our soon to be, newly minted Naval Aviators. I saw on numerous occasions, “Snort” executing short field, high performance takeoffs, going to vertical, and breaking the speed of sound going straight up. No factory demo airplanes. He was flying fleet scarred airplanes. Yeah, it was really motivating, and awe inspiring to think a couple of guys were in the pointy end of this airplane, flying it with absolute precision. The crash video was the opposite end of the spectrum for me emotionally and deeply troubling.

I can only imagine the effects on friends and family. Thanks for letting us know AvWeb indeed thinks about the potential ramifications, taking into consideration many factors including the emotional ones. Not an easy nor enviable task. Follow your collective intuitions. They have served you as well as us well. This is not a one size fits all discussion nor decisions. Thank you for saying what was and is on your mind, Paul.

Jim Holdeman

A generally accepted job description of a journalist; “to gather information, write news pieces, and present the news in an honest and balanced manner”. AvWeb does a very good job in the field we are all interested in and it is only human to be averse to showing the demise of someone you have a personal connection with. However, your job is to depict the event in the most factual way using whatever media is available. It is true that video sources have expanded exponentially in recent years making more of this kind of media available. One reason AvWeb is so good is because you are looking inside yourself and asking tough questions about your coverage. I believe the best course now and in the future is to show what you have (with a disclaimer for the kids) and if you need to recuse yourself for personal reasons, do that as well.

Tim A.

Poll: Is United Airlines Right To Require COVID Vaccination For Employees?

  • As long as the vaccine is considered experimental, no. On the other hand, once the FDA has given final approval then yes. I had to get several vaccines for flying air medical. I am already COVID vaccinated, my choice, no one else’s. – Matt W.
  • Yes, but nobody is required to work there.
  • At least until the vaccines are fully FDA approved, I think UA is out of bounds. (Yes, I’m vaccinated.)
  • Something is seriously wrong when employers believe a person’s major qualification for a position is whether or not they have been vaccinated for COVID.
  • 100-percent right and appropriate.
  • No. The vaccine is experimental with no long-term safety studies.
  • Proof of antibodies (previous COVID recovery) should be just as accepted and valid as vaccination.
  • Yes. It is a safety issue that each business selects their best solution.
  • Only for FDA “APPROVED” drugs. No mandatory vaccinations using experimental/investigative drugs.
  • Within their right? Yes. Will they back down due to labor/economic pressure? Yes.
  • Safety first, but there should be an opt-out for those who had COVID (and therefore have the antibodies naturally) and those who cannot get the shot due to other medical conditions.
  • Only once the vaccine standard approval is granted.
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